Healthbeat Report: Kids and Contacts

November 18, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Glasses in grade school are almost seen as a rite of passage for many children. And while one research study raises concerns about their safety for kids, advocates say contact lenses offer a number of advantages over glasses especially for children who are active.

The popular Harry Potter books and movies helped make glasses fashionable for youngsters. For many children glasses are still the best choice. But for some, being freed from the frame means real life changes, even if you're only eight years old.

Jordyn Swenson says contacts are making a difference in her gymnastics routines. She has myopia, trouble seeing far away, and is glad to be rid of the glasses.

"I can see perfectly," said Swenson.

Her mother was surprised the optometrist recommended contacts, and wondered if they would be safe and whether her daughter would be responsible enough. No problems so far.

"I don't even have to help her. She takes care of everything," said Kristen Swenson, mother.

Orland Park optometrist Mary Lou French says physically a child's eyes can tolerate contacts at a very young age.

"A lot of parents have that misconception, 'oh they have to be a certain age,' and I have not found that not to be the case at all," said French.

She recommended daily disposable soft lenses for Swenson which eliminated the need for cleaning and disinfecting. French says it all depends on the individual child.

"There have been studies that contact lenses are great for children's self esteem and self worth and improve academically, as well as athletically," said French.

Teenagers Tre and Lynda Hodge have been wearing contacts since they were seven and 10. Both admit the transition was a bit of an adjustment but agree it was worth it.

"I liked my appearance without glasses," said Lynda Hodge.

A study by the American Optometric Association finds a little more than half of the optometrists surveyed feel it's appropriate to introduce soft contact lenses to children between the ages of 10 to 12. Fewer felt comfortable prescribing lenses to those children younger than 10.

Optometrist Renee Reeder thinks attitudes will change along with contact options.

"We now have a huge range of daily disposable lenses which, from a mom perspective, I don't have to worry if my kid is going to clean their lenses. They just have to throw them away every night," said Reeder.

A two year study in the journal Pediatrics found that contact lenses are at the top of the list of all medical devices that cause injury and send children to the emergency room. Those injuries included abrasions, ulcers and infections. Optometrists attribute the problems to improper care and use of the lenses.

"We need to spend the time instructing our children how to properly care for their lenses and the importance that's there and to reiterate that," said Reeder.

It's only been a couple of months but Jordyn Swenson says she can't imagine not having the option to go without glasses.

"Kids can have contacts, not just grownups and teenagers, and it's pretty easy for kids to put them in," said Jordyn Swenson.

Both French and Reeder have worked as consultants for contact lens companies. They say the cost for daily disposable lenses is only about $100 more a year. And even if a child does get contacts, it's recommended they also have a pair of prescription eyeglasses.

American Optometric Association

American Academy of Pediatrics

Illinois Eye Institute
Renee Reeder, OD
3241 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, Il. 60616
(877) 949-eyes

Mary Lou French, OD
Children's Eyecare & Family Eyecare of Orland
14315 S. 108th Ave.
Orland Park, IL 60467
(708) 403-0123

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